The Hollywood landscape has changed substantially over the past 14 years, particularly in how superhero franchises are handled. Pixar’s 2004 hit The Incredibles gave us a glimpse of what was to come for big-budget comic book summer flicks, showing they can be a platform for meaningful storytelling by sliding in deeper themes and enriching characters just beneath its explosive and exciting surface. It paved the way for how audiences would accept later deconstructions of the genre like The Dark Knight and Watchmen many years later. It’s truly a shame, then, that while its long-awaited follow up delivers the same jazzy pacing and lovable characters, it ultimately prefers playing safe and nostalgic to showing us what innovative directions the superhero genre could take next.
Picking up immediately where the last film left off, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl (Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter) find themselves seemingly out of retirement chasing down their latest nemesis (John Ratzenberger). For all the collateral damage caused by the battle, the superpowered family is arrested, causing a wave of mistrust in the minds of citizens. Enter technology conglomerate business owner brother and sister duo Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener) who offer Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) a chance to redeem superheroes in the public eye and eventually have superhero activity legalized once again. While Elastigirl investigates a media-hypnotizing supervillain who could destroy her and her family’s reputation forever, Mr. Incredible must overcome the daunting challenges of being a stay-at-home dad of their three superpowered children (Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, and Eli Fucile).
From the very first frame, it’s painfully apparent this sequel aims to capture perfectly the look and feel of the original, down to the character design, color scheme, and even editing style. It’s filled with call-backs, story beats, and even slightly harsh language to remind everyone that this is meant for the older viewers who grew up on the first movie. Every story beat is a reminder of what’s gone before, every character acts exactly as we all remember, each visual an echo of scenery from our childhoods, all music a carbon copy, making this another entry in today’s plethora of summer blockbusters more interested in reminding us how much we loved a film from our youth rather than trying to give us something new à la Star Wars or Ghostbusters. If you were hoping to see characters who have progressed with us for the past 14 years or grown from the experiences witnessed previously, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
This cloning of what’s gone before is not ruinous to the experience, however. Incredibles 2 benefits from voice actors that manage to play off each other as pitch-perfectly as before (if they didn’t record their lines at the same time, kudos to director Brad Bird for making it appear that way). Everyone sports the same charm and relatable real-life pathos today’s American family that made this super-team so memorable in the first place.
It’s also hilarious. Every joke, from baby antics to teen angst hijinks lands perfectly. The comedy will appeal to all ages, physical humor guaranteed to have younger viewers rolling in their seats with more subtle humor for the grownups.
It’s the aggravatingly predictable plot and character beats that really drag the film down, a plodding slog pushing the characters into the same conflicts, the same personal lessons learned, and the same type of bad guys to conquer. I personally was hoping for at a story that felt like a natural response to what apparently took place immediately before this one, but it really feels like a simple repeat down to similar motivations for both the heroes and villains. It took 14 years for the right story to come along and the best they could do was a copy, and a watered down one at that.
It’s a shame Pixar’s latest sequel falls closer to the likes of Cars 2 and Monsters University than it does to the average Toy Story sequel, but it ultimately will at least have fans of the first cheering it on. The humor and style land with a grace worthy of a Pixar film, it’s just a shame the story and character motivations don’t accomplish the same. But with many of the core conflicts from the first film so quickly wrapped up with the ease of a direct-to-DVD sequel in this installment, perhaps an Incredibles 3 could offer a more interesting and forward-thinking take on the superhero genre.